Great Wine Buys: An Expert's Picks
U.S. News asked Shawn Lightfoot, wine buyer for Denver's Applejack Wine & Spirits, the nation's largest wine superstore, to grab a shopping cart and pick out a dozen best buys from 15,000 wines on his shelves. He could pick any variety or vintage but was limited to a maximum of $250 for the full case. Here's what he put in his cart:
2005 Torbreck Barossa Valley Woodcutter's Shiraz$14
This shiraz is a goes-with-anything red that Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate rates at 90 points and declares an "outrageous value" at its regular price of $20. It can be found at some retailers for as little as $14.
2003 Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon$14
Cabernets from Washington State's Columbia Valley are on a roll. (Another 2003 vintage from the area, Quilceda Creek, recently garnered the No. 2 spot on the Wine Spectator's Top 100 list.) Yet despite this wine's 91 rating from the Wine Advocate, Lightfoot says most consumers aren't ready to pay $30 for a wine from Washington, so this large producer cut its price almost in half.
2005 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc$12
Like Australia, neighboring New Zealand is also suffering from a grape glut. Known best for its sauvignon blanc wines, the Crawford brand was recently purchased by goliath Constellation Brands, which lowered the price but kept its ace winemaking namesake at the helm. Rated a 90 by the Wine Spectator.
2002 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley$15
This complex cab made with prime grapes from Knights Valley in California's Sonoma County is considered an ideal wine cellar addition "that should drink well for 1012 years," says Robert Parker, who rates it a 90.
2004 Columbia Crest Columbia Valley Pinot Grigio$5
A popular wine with the cheese-eating set, this vintage hails not from Italy but Washington State. Its citrusy flavor goes well with fish. And at $5 a bottle, you can even justify using it to poach a nice piece of salmon.
2000 Clos Du Marquis Saint Julien Bordeaux$46
The second label of France's vaunted Château LéovilleLas Caseswhose 2000 vintage goes for $300 or more a bottlethis deliciously earthy pick from one of Bordeaux's greatest vintages ranked No. 14 in the Wine Spectator's Top 100. Even at $46, marked down from $70, it's considered a bargain.
2003 Les Pagodes de Cos Bordeaux$27
Another French second label, this one of Château Cos d'Estournel. Lightfoot says all but the pickiest drinkers would find this inky, full-bodied red indistinguishable from its wildly more expensive cousin.
2005 Borsao Red Wine$6
A blend of 80 percent old-vine grenache and 20 percent tempranillo grapes from northeast Spain's Zaragoza region, this is a fruity, medium-bodied table wine that Lightfoot calls "exceptional." Robert Parker agrees, rating it an 88.
2002 Laird Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay$20
2005 Laird Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon$40
One of Lightfoot's favorite California wineries, Laird Family Estates found the traffic through its Sonoma tasting rooms down recently, "so they cut the cord" on these two gems, which are usually available only in restaurants.
2004 Chehalem Corral Creek Pinot Noir$36
Recalling the sad story of the car crash that killed this Willamette Valley, Ore., producer's son, Lightfoot says the treacherous mountain road that leads to the winery is surrounded by some of the best pinot noir vines around. Rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator, this is among the best pinots in a state known for them.
2004 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec$9
Grown on 37-year-old vines in a single vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, this fruity vintage is made from the signature grape of South America's wine capital. While it's not discounted as much as others (it has always been a bargain), Lightfoot says, "You won't find a better wine for the price." Wine Spectator rates it an 87.